Saturday, August 6, 2011

Part 16

Saturday, July 23

After breakfast, we went down to the Sugar & Spice café for our morning coffee. We then headed over to the fruit market.

Except this was much more than just a fruit market. In addition to the produce vendors, the Luža square was full of people at tables selling all sorts of handicrafts. Lace and embroidery seemed to be the most popular items. But we had only come for some fruit; still, there’s no harm in looking at the things out for sale. In the end we only bought some nectarines and plums and made our way back to the apartment to drop those things off.

Today we were exploring the “other” side of old Dubrovnik ... the part between the Stradun and the mainland part of the new city. We started by heading to the Dominican Monastery. Portions of the original monastery date back to the early 14th century and portions of its walls are actually incorporated into the city wall; a large bell tower rises above. Easily the most beautiful part of the complex was the central cloister. After passing through the dark entryway this courtyard opens up like some kind of dream with palm and orange trees. In the centre of the garden is a well dating from the 14th century. During the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991/92, this well provided water to half the city’s remaining population.

One of the doors off the cloister leads to a small museum containing reliquaries and other works of art. And although much of the original art was destroyed during the earthquake, there is still the beautiful “Mary Magdalene with Sts. Raphael, Blaise and Tobias” painting by Titian. But as with many of the other works of art that we’ve seen, definitely in need of a good cleaning or restoration.

The monastery’s chapel was undergoing restoration but I managed to go in anyway and spend a few minutes looking at the stained glass up in behind the altar ... before one of the attendants came and told me that I had to leave. The well-to-do residents of Dubrovnik attended services here; the Franciscan mission at the far end of the Stradun (near the Pile gate) was where the lower classes worshipped. We heard that the services at the Franciscan church were scheduled to start 15 minutes after the start of service at the Dominican church ... to give servants the opportunity to drop off their masters and hustle up the Stradun to be in time.

After we left the monastery we worked our way up, up, up and up some more to Peline ... running just below the city’s north wall. Every time we came to another “street” we’d look back down the vertigo-inducing stairways. I understand how a place like Costco would have a hard time catching on here ... how on earth you would ever be able to lug some of those jumbo-sized packages up here. Well, maybe the 36-roll packages of toilet paper.

I mentioned the religious tolerance of Dubrovnik and so it was no surprise to find that the city has a small “Jewish Quarter”. Well, actually more of a laneway than anything else – Žudioska ulica.

The year 1492 was momentous in Spain. Under contract to the King and Queen, Columbus sailed west to the Americas ... the Treaty of Granada concluded the “Reconquista” ... and the Alhambra Decree ordered the expulsion of the Jewish population. Many Jews – fleeing the ensuing religious persecution wound up in Dubrovnik; stayed and gathered on Žudioska ulica. The street runs perpendicular to the Stradun and continues up to the wall. Closed off by the wall at one end, the Stradun end had a gate that was locked at night. The small synagogue is the second-oldest in Europe and has a small museum. In addition to a number of ceremonial Torahs, the museum displays some articles from the Second World War.

During the Second World War Croatia was under the control of a highly-nationalist group known as the Ustaše. Installed as a puppet regime by the Nazis, the Ustaše promoted a racially “pure” Croatia and engaged in persecution and genocide against Jews, Romani (a.k.a. “Gypsies”) and Serbs. Like their Nazi masters, the Ustaše issued orders commanding Jews to wear armbands and identify their shops as “Jewish-owned”. Strangely, the museum is silent on the human toll extracted by the Ustaše: 20,000 Croatian Jews killed. Now, only about a dozen Jewish families remain in Dubrovnik.

The Ustaše did not, however, persecute Muslims. Although they were fanatically Catholic, which in the political context identified Catholicism with Croatian nationalism, they actually declared both Catholic and Muslim faiths as the religions of the Croatian people. We found the local mosque on the map and went to visit (since we had read that it was an “open” mosque) but when we got there, we found that it was “closed” for the balance of the day.

During our wanders we'd bought a couple of things, and came back by the apartment to drop them off. Just in time too, because as we were about to head out for lunch, a thunderstorm blew through with quite a bit of rain. Since the polished marble streets are not the best place to be when it rains we decided to wait it out.

After the rain stopped, we went back out and had pasta for lunch in yet another little restaurant in yet another narrow alleyway.

After lunch, we continued our explorations of the “other side” of the city. Just inside the Pile Gate is Franjevački Samostan Muzej ... the Franciscan Monastery Museum. As at the Franciscan Monastery at the other end of the Stradun, the monastery surrounds a beautiful central cloister with palm and grapefruit trees. In one corner of the cloister is the Franciscan pharmacy. The pharmacy was opened in 1317 and has been in continual operation since then. Of course, this is not the “original” room ... rebuilt after the earthquake, there were quite a few (obviously) newer stones used for repairs after the siege.

One thing that struck me about both the Dominican and Franciscan monasteries – as well as the Jesuit church – was how "unprotected" the art is. In most of the other churches in which we’ve been, the visitors are kept well back from the art. Here, it was (in many cases) possible to get up so close that it was possible to examine the brushstrokes. There were no restrictions on the use of flash” photography. As peace returns and tourism increases, I’m not sure how long they can allow this type of access to continue. Already, it appeared to me, many of the artworks were not in as good a condition as they could or should have been. Perhaps now the money for restoration and maintenance (and access control) will begin to flow ... but until then, there are incredible opportunities to get up close.

There still remained many, many more things to see (and do) in Dubrovnik ... the Tvrđava Lovrijenac (St. Lawrence Fort) is just outside the city’s walls – at the Pile Gate – and is not only Dubrovnik’s oldest fort, but also the venue for many of the concerts in the Dubrovnik Summer Festival series. We also didn’t get a chance to hike up to Mount Srđ (the large hill overlooking the city) to take a look at the Napoleonic- era fort. (Stick to the trails because there are still land mines and unexploded ordinance on the hillside.) A bit more time and/or a bit more aggressive touring schedule would also have given us the time to visit one (or more) of the beaches in the area. All good reasons to come back for another visit.

As it was, it was getting late in the afternoon, so it was time to head back to start getting ready to go out for supper.

Based on recommendations from we’d made reservations at the “Dubrovnik” restaurant. The restaurant's terrace was on the roof of a building – surrounded by other buildings with apartments. I had sea bass baked in a salt crust and Marg had scampi. When the sea bass arrived, it looked like this big lump of salt. The waiter carefully broke off pieces of the salt crust ... one of the medium-sized pieces was placed on the plate. He then removed the head and tail of the fish and placed those on opposite sides of the plate. Finally, he carefully separated the meat from the bones and placed that on the plate between the head and tail. The end result was the appearance of a complete (obviously fresh) fish on the plate without (nearly without) any of the bones. It was quite the production to watch. The food was great and the price was (for Dubrovnik) very reasonable.

Earlier in the day we’d picked up a couple of cake slices from Sugar & Spice; so we went back to the apartment for dessert.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Part 15

Friday, July 22

And it was a very good night's sleep; we didn't wake up til nearly 1000.

There's a little coffee and pastry shop just up the "street" from our apartment called Sugar & Spice. After we had breakfast in the apartment, we stopped in there for coffee (kava s mlijko) and some banana bread. It's a good thing (for me anyways) that the two languages - Slovenian and Croatian - are so similar. I'd read that Up until about 50 years ago, the entire group of languages was referred to as "Serbo-Croatian" and that the differences were accounted for as "dialect". Take it from me, you don't want to say that out loud in this part of the world. Fortunately, my pronunciation is so bad, people can't really distinguish whether I'm trying to speak Slovenian, Croatian or something else. Little matter, so long as I get my coffee I'm fine.

Today it's going to be just me, Marg and what seems to be about 10,000 other people from today's cruise ships; we're all just wandering the city.

The tours came in waves ... with small stickers on their shirts that indicated which numbered group they were with. We went to the Pile Gate and saw the organization. Buses would pull up, a group would get off, and start with a guide. The group leader or guide had a paddle with the group's number shown. Group number 12 would leave, and group number 13 would form up. Each group would follow the preceding group on a pre-determined route with pre-determined spacing. Groups were divided by language; we heard English, Italian, French, Croatian.

The old city is fairly simply laid out. The main street (the spine of the city) is the Stradun (Placa). Wide and paved with marble, it's lined with shops and restaurants. At one end, the Pile Gate which is the hub of tourist activities. At the other end is the gate to the Old Port; near this gate is the Sponza Palace (Sponza-Povijesni Arhiv).

The Sponza Palace is the former customs house, but now houses a gallery for temporary art exhibits and a war memorial. The war memorial room devoted to the Dubrovnik Defenders and has a photo of each of the dozens of people killed defending the city during the 1991 siege. The building itself dates from 1522 and is one of the few remaining original examples of the 16th-century architectural style; much of the rest of the city was destroyed in the earthquake of 1667.

The square's elaborate bell tower shows phases of the moon and - just as in the Piaza San Marco in Venice - has a "digital" clock that reads in 5-minute increments. Word is, though, that this one pre-dates the one in Venice by several decades.

Opposite the Sponza Palace is Crkva Sv. Vlaha (in English - St. Blaise). Between the two is the Luža with a statue of Orlando facing the Sponza. It's said that the length of the right forearm of the statue was the official unit of measurement in Dubrovnik. And for easy reference, there's a line carved into the top step of the statue's pedestal.

Knežev Dvor (pronounced exactly the way it reads) is just up from this square. Dubrovnik was overseen by a "rector" elected by the nobility. To prevent corruption, the rector's term of office was only one month. It was from the Knežev Dvor that the rector guided the city.

All around the square and up the small laneways people were selling handicrafts.

Just up from the Knežev Dvor is the Katedrala. On his return from the Third Crusade, King Richard the Lionhearted was shipwrecked on Lokrum Island - about 800 metres off the wall of the Old Port. Richard promised God that he would build a cathedral if he survived ... he did ... and the citizens of Dubrovnik convinced him to build the cathedral here in the city. The original church was also destroyed in the earthquake of 1667 and today's church dates back to the 18th century. These old churches are really big on relics - bits of saint's bones and the like (usually small fragments encased in silver reliquaries made into the shape of a hand, foot or whatever.

The Emperor Constantine's mother Helen claimed to have acquired the true cross during a trip to the Holy Land ... and brought it back. In turn, the Byzantine Emperors distributed fragments to the various Balkan Kings. The treasury of the Katedrala claims to have one of these fragments. The Katerdrala also claims to have in its possession the actual swaddling clothes in which the baby Jesus was wrapped (probably by way of St. Helen the mother of Constantine again).

Having visited many, many churches on previous trips (mostly because that's where so much of the art is still actually "in situ") I'll say right now that I find these Slavic churches to be generally much darker places. Maybe it's because for so many years they lacked the resources to properly store and keep their treasures. The Katedrala was a very dark place.

In cross-section, Dubrovnik is shaped very much like a dish. As we moved away from the Stradun, we went up ... which meant stairs. I wanted to head up to Marg's "namesake" street Od Margarite - if for no other reason than to get a picture of her in front of some sort of street sign. Along the way, we found ourselves on the Jesuit staircase leading to St. Ignatius Loyola church ... the Jesuit mission to Dubrovnik.

We found Od Margarite running right along the base of the wall. We followed this along, exploring some of the more "remote" (i.e. non-tourist) parts of the city. I'm not sure how non-tourist it was though, what we heard was that most of the city's remaining permanent residents actually move out of their own places during the summer and rent to tourists. I'm not sure if I would have wanted a place this far from the Stradun ... looking down the alleyways leading to the central part of the city was a vertigo-inducing experience. Nothing but stairs, stairs and more stairs. Did I mention that the stairs are steep? And did I mention that they don't always conform to stand rise/run conventions? Everywhere you had to watch your step carefully. Falling down these stairs would likely be a ten-minute ride

Yesterday evening, during our first explorations of the city we'd seen a small gallery just around the corner from our apartment; on the outside were a number of posters with narratives about the bombing of Dubrovnik. Today, we went in to see the gallery and meet the artist Ivo Grbić.

Most of Ivo's works were silkscreened posters. Many were stylized depictions of the old city ... all were very nice. Marg - using her Slovenian - had some words with Ivo ... what I got from the conversation was that he liked Slovenes. In fact, I think that the only people he held any animosity towards were those who inflicted so much grievous damage to his beautiful city. Ivo is still in the same studio he had during the bombing of the city in 1991. On the exterior walls of his studio he's placed photos and narratives describing life in the city during the winter of 1991/1992.

Every summer, the Dubrovnik Festival brings performers from around the world to this city. Ivo had put together a book of character sketches of some of the major performers ... we bought one and asked him to sign it. It was a bit sad to watch him struggle with the pen; Ivo seems to have Parkinson's. Ivo also gave us a postcard (more photo actually) of him, wrapped in a blanket, wearing (as many in the city did at the time) a cooking pot on his head for protection, standing in the same street we were on - his sister's apartment in flames one floor above. The spirit of that man lives on, but time has taken its toll on his body.

After our visit with Ivo we went for lunch at a little pizza joint called "Mea Culpa". I figured that if the food was bad, they'd have already apologized for it.

This alleyways and back sidewalks of this city are built for wandering. And wander we did ... mostly in the area between the Stradun and the sea. There seemed to be something else to see around just about every corner.

In its day, Dubrovnik was known for tolerance. And given the area's recent history and political climate, St. Stephen's Orthodox Church stands as a testament to that tolerance.

The former Yugoslavia fractured along three main fault lines - Roman Catholic (Slovenes and Croats), Muslim (Bosniak) and Serb (Orthodox Christian). As an Orthodox church, Srpska Pravoslavna Crkva (St. Stephen's) still celebrates in a manner similar to the earliest traditions of Christianity. There are no pews; worshippers stand through the service. Inscriptions in the church are all in Cyrillic and the religious imagery is iconographic in style. It was very beautiful inside ... in fact, up to this point I would say one of the best-maintained churches that we've visited since leaving Italy.

By now it was getting quite late in the afternoon, so we headed back to the apartment for our afternoon siesta.

On "our" side of the city, Od Puča runs parallel to the Stradun and is filled with shops of every sort. Prijeko runs parallel to the Stradun on the other side and is lined with restaurants. It was to this area that we went looking for supper. All we had to do was pick one.

On our stroll back to the apartment we stopped in at Sugar & Spice and picked up a piece of chocolate/pistachio cake. Delicious!

We were thinking back to our conversation with Ivo and the many things we'd seen today. And so we went to You-Tube and watched several videos that had been shot during the siege of Dubrovnik. It was very sad to see the senseless destruction that had been brought to this beautiful and historic place. Even the Nazis had withdrawn from Rome to save the common culture. It's impossible for me to comprehend what madness must have come over the people responsible.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Part 14

Thursday, July 21

Moving on, we're headed for Dubrovnik today.

We had to get up early (again). When we were leaving Ljubljana, I set the alarm for 0610. So far, that seems to be a good time for getting up whenever we have something to do. Yesterday, it was a good time to get up to head to town to get the ferry tickets, and today, it was a good time to get up to get ready to leave.

Irena, the apartment owner, had offered to drive us down to the bus terminal; so we didn't have to schlep our bags too far to the ferry dock.

It was a much different ride on this Krilo catamaran. Fast and smooth, but also very full. Every seat was taken. When we got back to Split, there was what I now consider to be the "usual suspects" meeting the boat ... people holding signs for "Apartment/Sobe/Zimmer", tour operators meeting their next clients, porters offering to tote your bags on carts.

The transportation links in Split all converge at the same place. The ferry dock is right adjacent to the bus station, which is adjacent to the train station. It sure makes life easy for those "usual suspects". We hiked over to the bus station, and while Marg checked on where the bus was likely to be, I went in to buy the tickets. It turned out that we wouldn't have much of a wait; the next bus to Dubrovnik was leaving in about 15 minutes.

Who knew that buying your bus ticket didn't include "luggage handling". I had to pay a 20 kuna-per-bag "checked luggage" fee. And who knew that there was "assigned seating" on the bus. While I was dealing with the bags, Marg had gone on board to snag us a couple of seats on the right-hand side (for better views of the coast as we go southbound). With the bags taken care of, I went inside to get us a couple of kava z mlekom for the trip. I got on board and joined her. It was shortly afterwards, based on the conversation s of those around us, that we realized the "assigned seating" policy. Checking our tickets, we saw that we didn't even have two seats together ... let alone on the right-hand side of the bus. Fortunately, no one came to ask us to move.

We're working our way south along what is called the "Croatian Riveria" - and for good reason. The "beaches" along here are closer to what I would consider "beach" and there are all kinds of small hotels, pensions, apartments and campgrounds. The road twists and turns it's way along the coast; the views out over (and because it's a coastal road with plenty of ups and downs, down to) the water are spectacular. On the left, the coastal hills (or maybe they're mountains) rise rapidly. In the tourist centres, vendors with small stalls sell everything you might need when on vacation, outside of the towns, roadside fruit stands have giant watermelons. Every turn in the road brings something new.

A few passengers just got off in Makarska ... another tourist-centred town. A few more are getting on. The bus station here looks a lot like the one in Split.

We carried on slowly down the coast. The bus stopped in Ploče for a quick five-minute break and Marg managed to get in to the bathroom. I stayed behind - on the bus - to make sure that we didn't leave without her.

The road made a large loop around what appeared to be some sort of flood plain; the area was latticed with irrigation canals and roadside fruit and vegetable stands were everywhere. As we left the flood plain, the road climbed up, and up, and up - over a shoulder of yet another mountain. We rounded a few more bends in the highway and came to a passport control. This part of Croatia's Dalmation coast is fractured into two pieces by a small slice of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But it wasn't Bosnians that boarded the bus, they were Croatians. As happened on the train from Ljubljana to Zagreb, passports were checked *leaving* the country. A little further on, we came to the town of Neum. Here, the bus stopped for a 15 minute break.

Marg and I got sandwiches at the small snack bar. Many of the other passengers were getting ice cream. The "rest area" has a terrace with yet another gorgeous view out over the Croatian Adriatic ... or at least what I assume is the Croatian Adriatic since the Bosnian piece of coastline is so small and includes no offshore islands.

Back on the bus and we're off - only to arrive shortly after at another passport control/customs stop. Again, it's Croatian. Margaret and I are beginning to make jokes about the secret police forces of Bosnia and Croatia ... but maybe it's no joke. At the last passport control, they checked everyone's documents ... at this control they just waved the bus through. I started to wonder what all of these people will do for a living when Croatia (and eventually Bosnia) joins the EU. What happened at the Slovenia/Austria border will happen here - the only difference being that these recently-established borders (post-Yugoslavia breakup) have not yet developed as much infrastructure.

Out of Bosnia and back in Croatia, we were on the "home stretch" for Dubrovnik. Traffic was heavy on this two-lane road. We crossed a really nice-looking single-pillar cable-stay bridge (Franjo Tudjman Bridge), turned left and down to the bus terminal/ferry/cruise ship dock. From there, we had to take a bus to the Pile Gate - the main entrance to the old city.

The old city was not quite as confusing to navigate as Venice. We quickly found our way to the apartment and got squared away. We'd had a pretty early start to the day so we had a brief siesta before going out to start exploring the city.

We started by taking a walk around the city atop the old walls. Other empires swirled about Dubrovnik ... Venetians, Ottomans, Byzantium ... all were influential in the area. But Dubrovnik (formerly Ragusa until 1918) maintained independence and in the Middle Ages offered a counter-balance to the Adriatic influence of Venice. The city remained staunchly independent as a republic until being conquered by Napoleon in 1808. Even today, the city's motto is "Libertas".

The original city walls were built up to their present state in the 15th century as protection from the Ottomans. The walls offered a measure of protection to the residents during the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991. But not completely. As we circled the city and looked down across the roofs, the areas of destruction were identifiable by the presence of new roof tiles. And from the number of new tiles,it was obvious that nearly no area had been untouched.

The view out over the city from the walls was only outdone done by the view out over the Adriatic. Our choice to walk the wall late in the afternoon seemed to have been a good one; we'd heard that the parapets can become quite crowded when all of the day-trippers from the cruise ships flood the city during the early-to-middle part of the day. All told, it was about 2 km all around.

The walk around the city helped to give us a sense of perspective on Dubrovnik. For good reason it has the nickname "Pearl of the Adriatic".

We came down from the wall right where we'd started ... at the Old Port gate near the Sponza Palace. Back up along the Stradun and a couple of left turns brought us back to the apartment.

Supper that evening was at a restaurant near the site of the morning market; we had a mixed fish grill plate (for two) which was very good. After that, we did what Dubrovnik does best ... enjoyed the evening stroll around town. The streets were alive with street performers and pedestrians.

But all great days must come to an end ... so it was back to the apartment for a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Part 13

Wednesday, July 20

We leave Hvar tomorrow. Yesterday afternoon, we went to the local agency that sells tickets for the fast catamaran ferry back to Split. We were told that they only sell tickets one day in advance - so we would have to come back the next day. They had a sign posted in their window advising that the tickets for the next day (Wednesday) were already sold out; so I asked how quickly they sold out of tickets. "We open at seven, and the tickets are usually sold out by 10:30" she said.

With that in mind, we woke up early to head down into town to hit the ticket office first thing.

We haven't yet had the chance to see this side of Hvar ... the regular work-a-day things that go on out of sight of the tourists. In the town centre, deliveries were being made to the various restaurants and hotels. At the waterfront, small boats were loading up with supplies to be taken to the beach restaurants on the out-islands. The last of yesterday evening's partiers were staggering their way up the hill.

We were second into the ticket office, behind what appeared to be some sort of tour guide. Marg was worried that the guide would buy up all of the available tickets; I said not to worry because it's a big boat. In the end she only bought about 8 tickets. We got our two, so now we're set for getting to Split.

We went to a little coffee shop and had our morning kava z melekom (café au lait) along with a couple of little shortbread-type cookies. It rained overnight and it still looked as though it might rain again. At one point while we were sitting outside the coffee shop, several big gusts of wind blew some of the seat cushions around and knocked an ashtray (ever-present on tables here) to the ground. But the rain passed a bit to the north and the sky cleared off (just a bit). We even saw a rainbow.

After coffee, we walked back up to the apartment. We stopped for a bit to watch the ferry (the one we'll take tomorrow) pull in ... to get an idea of how it's going to work tomorrow. Suitably armed with that foreknowledge, we headed back up to the apartment for a proper breakfast.

After breakfast, we walked back down to the town centre to catch a boat to Palmažana. We lucked in, there was a boat just about to leave as we got to the taxi boat stand. Palmažana is a bit further out than Marinkovac or Jerolim, so the fare was a bit higher. It was still a bit breezy, so the ride was a bit rough. I was really surprised at the number of boats docked at the harbor. The main dock was full of sail and power boats; the smallest of which was in the 30 ft. range. The majority were 40+ footers. 

After we docked, we took the trail up the hill to see the beach at Vinogradišće Harbour. It was a very small (as in narrow strip of pebbles) beach that wrapped around the cove. There were at least three different restaurants/beach clubs doing business there. And although it wasn't "packed" with people, it was "busy" nonetheless.

Our objective for the day was lunch at a restaurant in Vlaka - Konoba Dionis. There are no roads (at least none that we saw) and the trail to Vlaka is quite rough. Not only was the surface of the trail rough - rocks, tree roots - the path was narrow and grown at the sides with small plants. Given that the climate is quite dry here, it's incredibly green everywhere. But that greenery is of the somewhat "dry, scratchy" variety. Think of picking your way through a narrow path at a Christmas tree farm. And as for the trail itself, it was sometimes difficult to follow the blue dots that had been painted as trail blazes. A couple of times we found ourselves at forks in the trail wondering which was the correct path.

We got our legs scratched up a bit ... but nothing too serious. Along the trail, we would every so often come to a break in the tree cover and be given a glimpse of yet another bay. And every bay had several boats anchored within. Palmažana, a sailor's paradise! That would explain all the boats we saw moored at the main harbour. And of you want to get a sense of how many different bays there are on the island, I invite you to look it up.

As recommended in our guidebook, we'd called ahead for a reservation. I had figured we could be there by 1400. We were a bit early, so at the last bay before the restaurant, we went for a bit of sun and a swim. The shore here was very rough, so the best we could do was sit in between some rocks and let the waves wash up and over us. It was certainly refreshing after the hike through the bush.

We headed up to the restaurant ... and it turns out that we really didn't have to make a reservation. However, if you're thinking of going, I'd recommend a reservation because his six tables could fill up very quickly.

Less a "restaurant" and more like an covered terrace, the place oozed rustic old world charm. The terrace opened off to a view of the olive grove, and beyond that, the Adriatic. We started with a pitcher of lemonade - made with lemons from their farm. Followed with a salad - made with vegetables from their farm. And shared grilled squid - no doubt caught within sight of the restaurant. The owner apologized when we ordered the squid; saying that it would be a little while for the squid because he had not yet built his fire. No problem! We were more than happy to sit and enjoy his place.

The single order of squid that (along with the salads and a bit of bread) we shared proved to be more than enough for lunch. But the owner managed to talk us into desert ... a slice of lemon cake accompanied by two small wedges of a jellied cantaloupe. Both were delicious.

But, our time there had come to an end, and we had to start the hike back to catch the taxi-boat.

It didn't seem to take quite as long to get back. And when we got to the dock area, the water taxi was waiting. "just going to wait until it fills up a bit more" he said. Well! He waited til it filled up COMPLETELY! As in "people standing at the back" full. The wind was still blowing at around 15 knots. The wind and the passenger load made for an interesting (rough) ride back.

But, make it back safely we did. For the second-to-last time, we walked back up the hill to our apartment to get ready for our last walk back down for supper.

There are some big yachts in town. We'd been noticing these behemoths the past couple of evenings. But today, there was one that has to top them all. Excellence III dwarfed all of the others it was tied up alongside. I'm not sure who was on board ... but whoever it is mush have a ton of Kuna, or Euro, Dollars or Yen at their disposal. (Later in the evening we looked up "Excellence III" on the Internet and found that it's available for charters ... and if you have to ask the price ...)

Even though the weather has turned a bit cooler, The town centre was once again crawling with people this evening. There seemed to be a lot more Brits in evidence, but I would still say that the majority of tourists here are German. At supper this evening, there was a mom/dad-2-kid family from Britain (at least judging from their accents and the fact that they ordered "chips"). At another table, we heard more British-accented English and down the square a bit, a small group of yobbos were breaking out in what I thought were English soccer songs.

We had pizza ... and after wards, I had an ice cream. On the walk back, we picked up some strudel-type pastries for the morning.

Back to the apartment; it's time to pack and get ready to move on tomorrow.

Part 12

Tuesday, July 19

Today, we had a "vacation from our vacation". We took a water taxi to Jerolim island, rented chairs and veg'd out on the beach ... swimming and relaxing.

Part 11

Monday, July 18

Wow! I must have been tired. I slept til 1000.

After a bit of breakfast, we got our beach stuff ready and began walking towards the town centre.

Although there are beaches not far from here, I'd read that the better "beach" experience is had by taking a water taxis to to one of the adjacent islands ... with the warning that they can be pretty deserted/desolate places. Our plan today was to visit Marinkovac Island.

As we walked towards the town centre, we stopped in at a small grocery store to pick up some things for lunch; bread, cheese, meat. Spoiler Alert: we should also have picked up more water.

We got to the dock and quickly found a boat heading out. We passed on the first stop at Jerolim and got off at the second stop - Marinkovac. there was a big "beach club" called Carpe Diem that had chairs, umbrellas and food. We stopped for a coffee and went off to explore the island.

To me, a beach is the sandy meeting between land and water. Here in Hvar, "beach" has nothing to do with sand ... although it is the meeting place between land and water. I'm pretty sure that land-based life did not crawl from the primordial ooze onto the shore of some Croatian island. If it did, it would have probably been smashed against the rocks. The Croatians could learn a lot from Canadians on the concept of "beach".

But, with a pair of sneakers and some good timing of the waves, it was possible to get into the crystal-clear water. Well, maybe more like aquamarine-crystal-clear. The sun was hot, the water refreshing ... come to think of it, maybe we Canadians could learn a thing or two about the concept of "beach" from Croatians.

We sunned, we swam, we ate our lunch, we swam some more ... and when we got bored, we packed up and explored the island a bit more. Remember earlier when I said that we should have picked up more water? Well, at one point, we found ourselves quite a way from the "beach club" under the broiling sun with less than a half-litre of water to share. And all of that swimming in the salt water made my mouth feel as though I'd been eating potato chips and pretzels!

The walk back to the "beach club" was OK ... the trail was very narrow and the bushes kept scratching our legs. We made a point of stopping for a break whenever we found ourselves on shady spots of the trail; we managed to get back to the "beach club" without having tom resort to drinking the condensation from the odd discarded plastic bottle we saw along the way.

After the boat ride back, we hiked our way backup to the apartment, stopping again at the store along way to re-stock our drink supply ... and making sure to buy extra for tomorrow.

After a snooze and showers, we headed back down into the centre for supper. We went up to an area just north of St. Steven's Square. There was a narrow lane way along which we found several restaurants. In the end, we settled for a place called Lucullus.

We thought we would have to sit indoors, but there was an open-to-the-sky area behind the front wall of the restaurant; a "courtyard" if you will. We took our table and the waiter brought menus. He described two of their specials for the evening - a shellfish/pasta combo and a baked fish ... I asked him to bring us those.

The food was fabulous! And the atmosphere was indescribable. There was a large group that came after us ... Marg thought that maybe they were the Croatian Mafia. Based on the champagne starters (opened with a small sword!) and money they kept tipping the musicians (two guitar platers), she may not have been too far wrong.

We wound up spending the entire evening at the restaurant. The service was't rushed ... it was simply understood that that was to be our table for the evening. Sometimes, the musicians played (obviously) Croatian songs that many of the other people in the restaurant sang along to, sometimes they played more familiar (at least to our ears) North American songs by Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel. They would move from table to table; play a couple of songs and move along. They came by our table, played one song, and then asked "English?". Well, yes, but also "Slovensku". That sent one of them off to chase down their songbook. After leafing through, they found one ... and started into John Denver's "Country Roads" with Slovenian lyrics. After they were done, we thanked them ... but Margaret thought she heard the "mafia" group in the back grumbling about getting back to playing "our songs". The musicians quickly headed back that direction and started back into the Croatian songs.

Even though the Slovenes and Croats have - as far as both Marg and I know - had good relations through the years, my guess is that there may be a bit of lingering resentment on the part of the Croats (towards the Slovenes). Twenty years after the breakup of Yugoslavia began, the Slovenes are "in" the EU and moving forward; the Croats are still waiting.

One piece of advice we read "if you encounter any political-type disturbances, just leave". It seemed like a good time to heed that advice; and in any event, our supper was long over and since it was going on midnight, it was time to head back to the apartment. We walked through a still-crowded main square and waterfront, back up to the apartment for another good night's sleep.

Part 10

Sunday, July 17

We had to get up early today. Helen's flight is at 0800 and her ride to the airport is scheduled to pick her up at 0630. She'll fly with Adria to Frankfurt and then with United on to Washington and Ottawa.

Marg and I carry on now to Croatia. Our plans take us to Zagreb by train, Split by Croatian Air and then ferry over to Hvar. In between, I'm sure there will be a couple of bus connections. When I planned this out, I knew that there were going to be a few challenging travel days; Venice to Gorizia/Nova Gorica and on to Ljubljana was one. Today is the second.

After Helen was on her way, we finished tidying up around the apartment. As instructed by Miro, we left the keys in the apartment's mailbox and headed the three blocks up to the train station.

We arrived early enough to enjoy a cup of coffee on the platform; one of the other patrons was enjoying what appeared to be his first - of what were likely to be many - beer of the day. There are several impressions that will stick with me; not all of them favourable. Ljubljana is a beautiful city and in short order, will become of the the "hot-cool" destination cities. But they really have to do something about the people on bicycles that tear in and out of pedestrians at high speed. I'm all for bikes, but there are places to ride, and places to dismount and walk. Crowded pedestrian areas (IMHO) fall into the latter category.

Smoking seems to be endemic. Although banned indoors, every outdoor table came equipped with an ash tray. And if we moved it away, the wait staff quickly tried to replace it. Even our apartment - which was listed as "non-smoking" had an ashtray available on the table!

And then, there's the drinking. Not that people were "drunk" ... but there seemed to be no limit or curb on its consumption. From early in the morning, til late at night; start the day with a beer, end the day with a beer. Maybe it's my "puritanical" North American perspective. But I have to wonder how much more the society could accomplish if so many people weren't wandering around most of the day under some small alcoholic "buzz".

Sorry, I got a little carried away.

We boarded the train and found spots in a small 6-seat compartment. There's a local (Ljubljana) youth baseball team on board ... and like any trip involving young teens, there was a lot of post-boarding scrambling around to try and find seats. All is settled now, and we're heading for the Slovenia/Croatia border and out of the EU passport zone.

First, there were the Slovenes, checking travel documents and stamping "exit" from the EU. After that was done, the train was back underway and the Croatians came through doing pretty-near the same thing. Except this time, they weren't stamping the "EU" entry, but rather entry into Croatia. I was wondering what will happen to both these sets of "inspectors" once Croatia is fully admitted to the EU and the border is rubbed away. One thing is sure, it will reduce the train's travel time between Ljubljana and Zagreb by about 20 minutes.

When we got to Zagreb, we first hit an ATM. Euros are out, Kuna are in. Then we grabbed a snack and a cup of coffee. We sat on front of the train station and plotted our next move; we had to make our way to the bus station. The maps I had looked at made it seem as if it were on 4 or 5 blocks. But, given the fact that we were schlepping our bags, we decided to take the local streetcar.

It was a couple from (of all places) Winnipeg that helped us get off at the right stop. We walked to the far end of the bus terminal and found a bus about to depart for the airport; paid the fare, loaded our bags and hopped on.

For a capital city, the Zagreb airport is nothing special. Most of the passengers were taking "international" flights; the city was certainly well-connected. But there were no loading bridges. Passengers went through the boarding gates and got on buses to be taken to the aircraft that were parked at "hard"stands.

We were there quite early for our flight - approximately 2 1/2 hours! And there was nothing but a couple of vending machines in the waiting area. Marg snoozed and I caught up on writing about our adventures. (Hey... you didn't think that I wrote this stuff in real-time ... did you?)

Finally, the departure lounge started to fill and before long, we were boarding the bus.

Croatian Airlines operates Dash 8-400 series aircraft (just like home) with a small "premium" cabin at the front. The flight was uneventful and about 45 minutes after departure we landed in Split. The approach was a bit odd ... there are high hills (actually more like a ridge) to the north of runway 05/23. We did an overhead procedure, crossing mid-field at about 3 thousand feet before turning into a left-hand downwind for landing on runway 23. At first I thought that the pilot was ex-F18 by the way he slammed it into the deck. But as we taxied in, I looked back and saw that there was a significant uphill tilt to the runway. I guess it was less about him slamming it on the deck and more about how the deck rapidly rose up to slam him.

After a short wait for our bags, and a wrong turn in our quest to find the Croatian Airlines bus, we were headed for Split.

I only knew a couple of things about how we were getting to Hvar. The first ... since it's an island, we're (probably) going to be taking a ferry to get there. The second ... it leaves at 1700.

Let's see ... depart Zagreb at 1435 with 45 minutes enroute. Then, time spent waiting for bags and a 45 minute bus ride into the city. Hmmm ... it was looking like this would be cutting it close ... especially if there's any sort of walking distance involved.

We'd looked at a map in the guidebook, but nothing can take the place of actually seeing it and sizing it up for yourself. The chaos of the port was evident as the bus approached the terminal. Buses, cars, foot passengers, ferries large and small ... all loading and unloading; locals who had come to meet the airport bus were holding signs advertising rooms, over there, some dock workers trying to cram an intercity bus onto a ferry.

It turned out that there were two options for a 1700 departure: a "fast" catamaran that would get us there in about 45 minutes, and the regular car ferry that would take 3 hours and leave us a 20 minute ride from Hvar town. Now, you may well ask, why did you take the car ferry? Well, for the obvious reason ... the catamaran was SOLD OUT! Nothing much to do now except enjoy the ride.

We arrived in the town of Stari Grad and took a bus over to Hvar. The island is very dry, very rocky and quite a bit hillier than I'd thought it would be. When we arrived at the town, the owner of the apartment was there to meet us and drive us up to the place.

The apartment is small, but functional. The terrace/balcony/lanai looks out over the town and the bay ... amazing!

We had showers and took the walk down to town to get some supper. It's quite compact at the centre, and the sidewalks (no cars) were jammed wi people. At the docks were some of the most impressive boats I've ever seen.

We settled on a pizza joint on St. Stephen's square. And, apart from a 45 minute delay in getting our food from the kitchen to our table, had a nice meal. After supper, we wandered through some of the back alleys. Despite the fact that it was after 2300 most shops were still open.

We left the town centre and headed back up to the apartment for a good night's sleep.